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Protesting Emergency Declaration; Graham Defends Declaration; Republicans Support National Emergency for Wall; New AG Faces Test; Graham Vows Investigation. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A level of intrigue here. This as officials that we are speaking to with the government say that the protests that we saw over the last nine days weren't just an expression of popular revolt and upset with the president and with corruption, that there are foreign actors trying to destabilize the government. And whether or not these individuals who were arrested play into that, it is just not clear yet. But certainly more intrigue here in Port-au-Prince. And at this point a stalemate between the protesters and the president, who they want to step down.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Miguel, thank you so much.

And thanks for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with Phil Mattingly starts now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special Presidents' Day edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Phil Mattingly. John King is off.

Protests kick off this hour against President Trump's declaration of a national emergency to fund his border wall along the Mexican border, while the president accuses his current deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, of committing a, quote, illegal act. Did I mention he is the current deputy AG?

And, it's our public service to educate you on the rules of campaign travel as the 2020 candidates roll into New Hampshire. Rule number one, own the selfie game. Senator Cory Booker has check that box. Rule number two, know what state you're in, and, of course, who's actually in the room.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been from North Conway (ph) to here to Nasua (ph) and really just benefiting from folks from this state who take these primaries so seriously.

I want to thank Ben Clemons (ph), who is here. He is. Where's Ben? OK, maybe Ben is not here. Maybe my card is not -- but I want to thank --


MATTINGLY: Ben? Ben? Anyone?

President Trump facing intensifying blowback today after declaring a national emergency to fund his border wall. A slew of non-profits, watchdogs, and environmental groups spent the weekend announcing lawsuits against the declaration. And, moments ago, yet another legal challenge, California's attorney general announced this on CNN.


XAVIER BECERRA, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's kind of awkward to say that on Presidents' Day we're going to be suing the president of the United States, but sometimes that's what you have to do.

Well, we're going to try to halt the president from violating the Constitution, the separation of powers, from stealing money from Americans and states that has been allocated by Congress lawfully and we're going to try to make sure we keep the president from continuing to play this theater by manipulating the office of the president to do his bidding.


MATTINGLY: Happy Presidents ' Day indeed.

Now, Becerra said he expects about a dozen states to join the lawsuit from California.

And the courts aren't the only threat to the president's border wall. A termination effort could also come from Capitol Hill, which Congress is not actually in session this week. The white House making clear the president will fight any action lawmakers might take.


CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Will the president veto that, which would be the first veto of his presidency?

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, obviously, the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration, Chris. And I know that we're out of time, but, again, I want to make this point, there's no threat --

WALLACE: So, yes, he will veto?

MILLER: There -- he's going to protect his national emergency declaration guaranteed.


MATTINGLY: To sum up, yes, he will veto. Advocacy groups have organized across the nation today, which also happens to be, yes, Presidents' Day.

CNN's Ryan Nobles joins me live near the White House at one of those protests. And, Ryan, I guess the big question now as kind of you see

mobilization across the country to some degree is, how effective do they think this will be in their pushback?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Phil, I think that's the important question here today. And we do see a pretty decent crowd here at Lafayette Park, right across from the White House. This particular protest organized by the ACLU, which is helping to support some of these lawsuits. Also and Indivisible among the groups that are participating in this protest.

And this is just one of many across the country that are designed to do specifically what you're talking about, put pressure on those groups that are associated with the president's emergency action and also to put pressure on Congress. We've already heard many of the speakers today specifically blame Congress for essentially not standing up to the president as he pushed forward with his emergency action and because they dealt with him to a certain extent in this latest spending plan.

Of course a big question is just how much will the president and congressional leaders listen to these protested across the country. It seems as though there are protests like these on a pretty regular basis here in Washington.

And, Phil, we should also point out, that they are loud, they are definitely unified, but the president isn't here. So there's a very good chance he's going to have no idea that this particular protest even took place.


MATTINGLY: Yes, a couple key details from Ryan. The president's actually in Florida right now and there's probably about three dozen protests going on in Washington, D.C., at any given point. But we'll definitely keep an eye on that.

[12:05:01] Ryan Nobles, right across from the White House, thank you very much.

And here now to share their reporting and insights, Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast," Paul Kane with "The Washington Post," Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico."

So, guys, look, we've kind of seen this coming. We've had a weekend for everybody to kind of weigh in. And I think it's important to note that while Republicans, to some degree, are split on this and there's some apprehension that they got to this point in terms of declaring a national emergency, it's not unified opposition by any means.

Take a listen to what one of the closest allies of the president, Lindsey Graham, had to say this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's just say for a moment that he took some money out of the military construction budget. I would say it's better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We'll get them the school they need. But right now we've got a national emergency on our hands.


MATTINGLY: All right, P.K., you know Republican senators better than all of us combined most likely.


MATTINGLY: What's your sense of things? It's -- not to get into the kind of procedural details, but all it's going to take is a simple majority vote to block this in the United States Senate.

KANE: Yes.

MATTINGLY: And there's 47 Democrats who will likely be unified. What's your read right now about where the Republican conference is?

KANE: You know, first of all, it will pass the House. The House will have a clear majority. I don't think any Democrat in the House will oppose Pelosi on this.

So it will move to the Senate and they'll -- they'll have a majority. I think there are at least five to ten Senate Republicans right now who would oppose it. Ron Johnson has been very sort of adamant in his opposition. I think Susan Collins has been out there.

But what it will take to override a veto is something like 20 senators to buck Donald Trump on his signature issue. That's not going to happen.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and I think, Laura, kind of shifting over to the Democrats as well, and you cover the caucus closer than anybody, what's your sense right now -- if they can't override a veto, kind of, what are their options that they're actually considering right now on Capitol Hill, beyond legislative, I guess?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Right. Well, this resolution does present a good opportunity for them to put Republicans on the record ahead of the election, which is something that they very much want to do, especially since, as P.K. mentioned, we're going to see a split -- to a degree a split Republican caucus in both the House and in the Senate.

The other option is a lawsuit, which House Democrats are talking about, you know, in joint -- in partnership with the states, which we heard from Xavier Becerra of California, the AG there.

So, you know, we're going to see House Democrats have this two-pronged approach and we haven't really heard if there's going to be much more on top of this resolution, as well as a lawsuit against the national emergency.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think one of the questions I have right now, look, we know there's going to be the legal track, we know there's going to be the legislative track. We don't know necessarily what's going to happen on either of them. But there's also the public track. You're seeing the -- what Ryan was reporting on across from the White House right now. If you pull up polling right now of where voters are, where registered voters are, the most recent polling that CNN has conducted, registered voters, 32 percent support a national emergency declaration. Look down one row and you have Republicans, 64 percent.

And I think some of the things I've heard from Democrats right now is, we need to really rally people to oppose this, and that will help our cause. Think health care. Think taxes. Think -- think the things you've seen outcry on. Does that play here? Does that actually have an effect?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": I don't think it has an effect on the president because the president only looks at that second line. He doesn't -- he doesn't look at the national numbers. He looks at where Republicans are because he's not worried about adding people. He wants to keeping the people that voted for him in one place. We saw that with the shutdown. We've seen it on any number of issues where the broad public doesn't necessarily support what the president is doing. But if his people are behind him and he's with him, he's going to stay where he is.

MATTINGLY: And I think it's a great point. And, Shear, I want to go to you on this because when you look at kind of how the White House has pivoted in the wake of Thursday and Friday, when this was actually signed and declared -- the bill was signed and the emergency was declared, it's very clear that they want this fight. They're embracing this fight. You saw Stephen Miller on "Fox News Sunday."

Is this kind of their -- do they think that they can use this over the course of the next two years? They're very clearly in a re-election campaign right now.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, and they very clearly think -- Stephen Miller was on TV over the weekend. He is sort of the architect of thinking that immigration is the sort of -- the political issue for Donald Trump and for Republicans. He's thought that for a long time. He thinks the 2016 campaign validated that.

I think one of the challenges -- one of the advantages for Democrats and challenges for the president is that he's declaring it a national emergency, but there aren't -- there isn't evidence that people can feel of said national emergency, right? You go down to the border. The towns and mayors and elected officials and people down on the border sort of look around and say, well, that's actually not. You look at the president's activities. He's golfing in Palm Beach. He'll be traveling abroad to deal with North Korea. There isn't the sort of -- the grist of an actual emergency that people can feel and so that's going to be a challenge for them, just like it was a challenge in the midterm elections when, you know, he tried to whip up the fervor about the caravan coming in and invading the country, and when people turned on their television sets, there weren't actually invaders pouring across the border.

[12:10:04] And so the disconnect between the reality on the border and what the president is trying to do to make it a political issue is, I think, going to be a challenge. Can he sustain that for -- you know, for the next, you know, 18 months, two years.

MATTINGLY: And it's worth noting, Democrats are very comfortable in their position because they know he tried that or that was his kind of rhetorical push before the election and they had a sweeping election victory.

One thing I think to keep an eye on, there's a lot of lawyers that are going to be very involved in this. A lot of progressive lawyers are already involved in this. Don't look past land rights. Don't look past imminent domain. Don't look past a couple things.

And one other thing, the national emergency declaration is only $3.6 billion of the $8 billion total. He's using other executive action as well. And that will go sequentially.

So, a lot of stuff is playing out right now and, obviously, we have Shear to keep an eye on all of it and keep us all posted.

All right, up next, the big question for Bill Barr in his first week as attorney general, how long should his deputy keep his job? The White House, well, they're leaving that unanswered.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long is Rod Rosenstein in this position?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION: You know, that's a decision for Rod Rosenstein to make.



[12:15:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want go wish our new attorney general great luck and speed and enjoy your life. Bill, good luck.


MATTINGLY: That luck seems in short supply for the new attorney general now on the job at the Justice Department. And if Bill Barr expected to spend his first week filling out HR paperwork, well, now he faces a little bit of a headache of a different and very urgent variety, does he fire his deputy attorney general or take a stand against his boss, the president? Why are we saying that? Well, the president, this morning, tweeting that his hand-picked deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was caught conspiring to commit an illegal act, what the president's defenders call an illegal coup. Now the new accusation came after a new round of interviews from Andre McCabe, the fired former deputy director of the FBI. McCabe says Rosenstein did talk about the 25th Amendment used to remove presidents and the deputy attorney general did seriously suggest he wear a wire to surreptitiously record conversations with the president.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: The comments about wearing the wire Rod raised with me, again, multiple times in front of other people. I did not perceive them at any moment to be made in jest or as a joke or sarcastically. While the deputy attorney general says he never authorized anyone to wear a wire, that is true. He never authorized it because we never asked him for that authorization.

QUESTION: Meaning that his seeming denial of this story is not actually a denial. You don't think he denied anything you just said?

MCCABE: I don't -- I don't think he can.


MATTINGLY: Kind of surreal interview and a surreal moment just in general when you looked at the president's Twitter account this morning.

CNN's Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department.

And, Laura, technically Rod Rosenstein's office remains still a few floors above where you're sitting right now. Is there a Rod Rosenstein exit strategy at this point?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Phil, the deputy attorney general has been here before. And by all accounts his approach just seems to be, this, too, shall pass. No word from Rosenstein when exactly he will leave his post as the number two over here at the Justice Department. But as we have reported, Bill Barr, now the new attorney general, has a pick in mind for his number two position, Jeffrey Rosen, the number two, transportation secretary. But Rosenstein plans to stay on for at least some transition period.

Also, no words from Rosenstein on McCabe's statements last night in that explosive "60 Minutes" interview. But, in the past, the Justice Department has really tried to focus on what Rosenstein actually did or didn't do as opposed to what has been discussed.

Now, remember back in September, when those explosive reports first surfaced about Rosenstein wearing the wire and talking about the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office, we thought Rosenstein's days might be numbered, but he managed to weather the storm. We remember going -- him going over to the White House expecting to be fired, but that's not what happened. And, instead, just days later, he appeared on Air Force One with President Trump. So he has been here before and managed to get through it. But McCabe interview has certainly reopened old wounds. As we've seen,

Capitol Hill now focused on the issue with the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham, says he's going to get to the bottom of this and may even subpoena both Rosenstein and McCabe if necessary, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Laura with a great reminder, the, as the world turns, Rod Rosenstein story has been one we've followed quite a bit.

All right, joining the conversation right now is CNN's Sara Murray.

And, Sara, I guess that becomes the bigger question. You watched the "60 Minutes" interview and the entire media tour going along with Andrew McCabe's rollout. What tangible effect does it have beyond blaring headlines and Rod Rosenstein again?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT : Well, it's super awkward, for one, which is the position Rod Rosenstein has been in for a very long time. You know, I think we do know he has been preparing his exit. And so I think the question is whether this hastens it or whether, you know, Bill Barr hastens that on his behalf.

And I think the other question is, what kind of fallout does this have on The Hill? You know, we saw the president referring to this as some sort of illegal coup. Well, you know, if you're using an amendment of the Constitution, then it's not an illegal coup. They were looking at legal ways to remove the president from office.

But, obviously, this has peaked Lindsey Graham's interest and it's possible you could see these guys dragged in front of The Hill again to have some awkward conversations about things that were discussed. And I do think it is telling that Rod Rosenstein hasn't flat out denied that these conversations took place. He's been very careful in saying that they weren't discussed in any sort of serious manner and saying that he never acted upon these things. There's no flat-out denial that, hey, this never came up.

MATTINGLY: Yes, a little bit of hedging. And the ultimate professional, Sara Murray, teeing up this sound from Senator Lindsey Graham. Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's an allegation by the acting FBI director at the time that the deputy attorney general was basically trying to do an administration coup, take the president down through the 25th Amendment process. The deputy attorney general denies it. So I promise your viewers the following, that we will have a hearing about who's telling the truth, what actually happened.


[12:20:09] MATTINGLY: And I can promise our viewers, we will likely cover that hearing as well.

P.K. KANE: Do you really think that Republicans want to have a hearing with two high-level Justice Department officials, or ex-officials, in which they discuss the mental stability of the president and the ration of what went into the decision of whether or not to wear a wire against him? That would be a very awkward hearing. And I don't think, if I'm a political adviser to Donald Trump, I want anybody talking about that in open hearing.

SHEAR: Also, you know, the fate of Rosenstein is -- is a different -- is in a different context than it was back in September when those crazy -- the crazy day when we -- as Laura mentioned, we all thought he was about to be fired and --

MATTINGLY: That was six years ago, right?

SHEAR: Yes, it feels like. It only feels that way.

But, remember, at that time there wasn't a permanent attorney general to replace Jeff Sessions. There was much concern among Republicans and obviously all the Democrats on Capitol Hill, well, what would a Rosenstein departure mean for the future of the Mueller report and whatever? Now you have just had a big debate about the fate of the Mueller report around Bill Barr's confirmation hearing. You have a permanent attorney general. I think there's a sense that whether Barr fires him or whether he leaves in a few weeks or a couple months, I mean, you know, it sort of doesn't matter as much as it used to.


SHEAR: And I think that -- and that gives Republicans cover to not be as outraged as they might have been had he been fired back in September.

KUCINICH: And let's -- I mean Andrew McCabe has an ax to grind too. I mean he is -- obviously feels very wronged as to how everything went down. I mean he was fired, what, a couple hours before he was going to retire. And he's sat back and listened to a lot of other people tell their version of events. And so, I mean, he probably wants to appear in front of a Senate committee and tell -- and tell his side. And you wonder if perhaps House Democrats would acquiesce that sort of request or, you know --


KUCINICH: Give him -- give him that opportunity. We don't know that, but it's not possible.

MATTINGLY: He's also -- he's also in the midst of the least subtle nuclear war between himself and Rod Rosenstein --


MATTINGLY: That I think I've ever seen in Washington.

Murray, one of the questions I've had is, doesn't this kind of make the president's point, or the narrative that the president and his people have pushed for a long period of time, that there was some conspiracy against him behind the scenes? You've seen him, obviously, seize on that. You've seen a lot of his allies seize on that as well. Is that not the case?

MURRAY: It's choose your own adventure. So if you are one of them, the president's supporters, and you believe that the deep state has been out to get him from day one, you could look at this, you could look at this narrative and say, look it, the people at his own Justice Department were out to get him. They opened investigations into him. They were thinking about wearing a wire to trap him, trying to remove him from office. If you are on the far left and you think that this is a president who is unfit to be in this office and you believe that he has been in the picket of Russia since even before he was elected, you would say, look, this is further evidence that these career officials at the Justice Department, these top officials, were so concerned by the president's behavior that they decided to take this extraordinary step of opening an investigation into him, they even considered wearing a wire. So it really just depends where you fall in the political spectrum, how you are going to read this.

MATTINGLY: So there's lots of clarity, once again, and everybody knows exactly how this is going to go out.

MURRAY: Tons of clarity.

MATTINGLY: Look, obviously, keep a very close eye on this. Andrew McCabe still in the midst of his media tour. I don't think the president, based on his tweets this morning, is going to be giving this up any time soon.

And, hey, maybe Capitol Hill will be playing in this sooner rather than later, unless they take political adviser P.K.'s advice.

All right, up next, the 2020 candidates have landed. We'll take you live to New Hampshire.


[12:28:24] MATTINGLY: Welcome back to a special President's Day edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Democrats trying to make a 2020 White House run, or at least are thinking about it, are crisscrossing the country today with a focus on the first primary in caucus states. Three candidates are in New Hampshire today, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Eric Swalwell have Iowa stops. Pete Buttigieg has a book event in New York and Elizabeth Warren is on the West Coast in L.A. Booker is on the final day of his New Hampshire swing and shared his thoughts about the state with a tweet. That feeling when you get one more day of New Hampshire. Yep.

Booker spent the morning at a house party in Nashua where he praised New Hampshire voters and warned against politicians who claim they know it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do not believe any presidential candidate that's going to say, hey, I've got all the answers and all the solutions. Definitely don't believe a president that says, only I can solve these problems. It is we. It has always been we.


MATTINGLY: I feel like there should be kid in play references whenever anybody says house party. That's for the youths.

Laura, I want to start with you on this because we -- we're used to this by now, every cycle. Everybody comes out. They talk about how whichever state they're in is their favorite state and if they have a cousin or an uncle or maybe they drove through it one time. That's the key point.

But I guess the big question is, when we watch all these candidates in the early stops, what kind of sticks out to you in terms of what's coming next strategically for them?

[12:29:52] BARRON-LOPEZ: Right, well, we're one year out, right, and it's Iowa first and then New Hampshire. And I think that you're seeing candidates, like Booker and Harris and others trying to really establish themselves early in these states.